My Accomplice – by Ali Knight

Ali Knight, author of The Silent Ones, introduces her crime-writing inspiration: the one and only Stephen King.

Posted on February 4, 2016 in Guest Author
Tags: ali knight, crime accomplice, psychological thriller, stephen king, writing inspiration

My accomplice in crime is Stephen King. While most people probably think of King as a horror writer he has over his career written many fine psychological thriller novels. Misery is one of the great crime thrillers of our time. Each time I read it, I get a greater understanding of the complexity and creativity at work, but King makes its whole seem effortless.

Paul Sheldon, a much-loved writer who has just finished his latest bestseller, crashes off a mountain road in winter and is rescued by his ‘Number one Fan’, former nurse Annie Wilkes. Seriously injured, Annie drags him out of his snow covered car and cares for him at her isolated home. Paul’s slow realization that he is a bed-ridden prisoner is her home is bad enough, but when Wilkes discovers the manuscript for the latest book Paul has just finished, reads it and decides it needs a different ending, or someone’s gonna get hurt, things take a very serious turn indeed.

Tension, thy name is Stephen King.

At first glance it’s not an easy task to make a novel about a man confined to bed with terrible leg injuries a pacy, action-packed study in fear and paranoia, but this highlights the creative genius at work in King’s books.

Thrillers need several components to stand out from a crowded field: great plot, great tension, great characters, great dilemmas, and a universality which allows the reader to think, ‘God, what if that were me.’ King’s training in the horror genre certainly means he pulls no punches, what Annie does to Paul’s legs at one point in the novel leaves the reader thinking,  ‘Thank god that’s not me.’

There are many different worlds of imprisonment represented in this book, which makes it multi-layered and very perceptive: Paul is trapped writing bestsellers he no longer enjoys, he is trapped in a bed and dependent on the painkillers Annie hands out only if and when she feels like it. Annie is trapped in her mental problems, her dark past, and her addiction to the Victorian bodice-ripper genre that Paul conjures up in his bestsellers and aren’t real.

Critics have theorised that Misery is in some ways autobiographical, that King was feeling trapped by the public’s insatiable desire for more horror books. Maybe so, but with Misery King was able to step out of his horror furrow and transcend genres. The result is a treat and allowed him to experiment with different genres and voices thoughout his long career. For example, in Dolores Clairborne, written a few years after Misery, King spends the whole novel writing from the point of view of an old, working class woman. The result is a linguistic and stylistic tour-de-force.

When Paul Sheldon finishes a novel he smokes a cigar and celebrates with champagne. It’s his ritual. Flesh and blood writers have them too.  When my latest manuscript has been sent off I go for a long walk in central London, desperate to be away from my computer and immersed in noise, life and colour. I remember once carelessly stepping off the pavement on the Embankment and the harsh honk of a horn sending me reeling back to safety, the puff of air from a passing bus caressing my face. I thought of Paul Sheldon then, so sure of where he was going, so fleetingly triumphant as I was, but there is always only a gutter or an icy mountain road that separates us from disaster.

The Silent Ones by Ali Knight is out now.

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